East Coast Versus West Coast: Executive Pastry Chefs Weigh in on Summer Trends and Flavors of Their Coast

By Kerri Adams, Editor-at-Large

Both coasts of the US have renowned culinary cities, with New York City, Boston and DC, to name a few, on the east coast and San Francisco, LA and Seattle on the west coast. Like each chef, each coast and city has their own distinctive style.

With the local sourcing trend in full force, restaurants are relying on local ingredients to develop menus. So west coast and east coast often have to get creative with the native ingredients available in the season.

We asked two distinguished pastry chefs on opposite coasts a series of questions about the upcoming season and dessert trends and we got diverse answers.

Take a look at how west coast differs from east coast.

Meet the Pastry Artists

East Coast’s Molly Hanson

Molly Hanson

Molly Hanson

Molly Hanson is the Executive Pastry Chef of Himmel Hospitality Group’s Grill 23 & Bar and Post 390 in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood.

Hanson approaches her desserts with the intention of evoking positive food memories. At Grill 23 & Bar, Hanson brings big flavors and a ‘wow’ appearance, true to the classic steakhouse style, with signatures like the Famous Coconut Cake and Valrhona Chocolate Layer Cake. At Post 390, Hanson’s confections cater to the urban tavern appeal with desserts that are simple and straightforward like the Banana Cream Pie.

Molly lives in Concord, Massachusetts with her family. One of her favorite ingredients is honey, a nod to her beekeeper father. At home, she maintains a beautiful garden and harvests berries, rhubarb, herbs and flowers for use at the restaurants.

Eric Keppler

Eric Keppler

West Coast’s Eric Keppler

Chef Eric Keppler thrives in creative environments and his role as Executive Pastry Chef at Four Seasons Hotel Silicon Valley provides him with the ideal setting for showcasing his innate talents. Overseeing the entire Hotel’s pastry department including the signature restaurant Quattro, catering and in-room dining Eric says “There is never a dull moment!”  “I absolutely love the freedom and support I have in creating new dishes. Seeing and hearing the positive reactions of our guests have about something I’ve put my heart and soul into makes the entire process incredibly rewarding.”

Creativity is at the very core of everything Eric does and can be seen in every dessert he creates, saying “Passion and creativity are two things I focus on every day. I believe inspiration can be found everywhere, if you just take the time to notice it and I always tell my team that passion is what separates the good from the great.”

Can you tell us a little about your pastry expertise?

Hanson: Most of my experience has been in high volume upscale dining. For the past five years, I have had 850 restaurant seats in Boston under my care. My guests mostly like the classic Boston fare so I have delved into fun presentations of familiar desserts. My first priorities are flavor and freshness. It is a challenge to handle the logistics of maintaining fresh stock for so many potential guests. I lead two different pastry teams to handle the unique needs that arise in each of the restaurants.  I have two fantastic sous chefs that make it all work out in the end.

Keppler: The best thing about being a hotel chef is the fact that I run the pastry operation in multiple areas including our signature restaurant Quattro, in-room dining and catering. The role is dynamic and exciting, providing me with multiple opportunities to showcase my diverse set of skills. In a given week– I get to work on everything from baking bread, to making chocolate bon bons to creating intricate plated desserts and over-the-top show pieces for events.

What is it about pastries that consumers love so much?

Hanson: It always feels festive to order dessert, like a mini celebration.  I try to make the last course exciting, sweet, and delicious for our guests. It can create a childlike glee in some people that I find very gratifying to see.

Keppler: Pastry and baking is a skill that fuses science and art, which are often thought to be mutually exclusive and I think that fascinates people. Pastry items could be described as comfort food for many people; speaking of my childhood, I can remember whenever we would go to visit someone at their house we would bring a cake or a pie to share and the host would make coffee, so pastry always played a part of bringing people together to socialize over a piece of cake and some coffee.

What are some of the recent summer trends you are seeing?

Hanson: I keep seeing buttermilk pop up this year. It is in cakes, panna cotta, ice cream, and even just as a sauce itself poured over a cake. I have also seen a number of breakfast items on dessert menus: crullers, coffeecakes, donuts, and pain perdu.

Keppler: I try not to get too caught up in trends, but at the moment I’m noticing the return of all things tropical from flavors like coconut, mango and passion fruit to vibrant colors like electric blue turquoise and hot pink. I’ve also noticed the increasing demand for cakes with glaçage or mirror glaze, it’s a really fun technique to work with.

How are you incorporating seasonal trends into your dessert or pastry menus?

Hanson: I am still working on our summer menus. We are looking ahead to more stone fruit, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries right around the corner. I have a couple mini desserts on my menu which is a trend that I think is beneficial both to the guests and restaurants. For the guest, a healthier portion size is a nice option after a big meal. More people order when they have the choice of a small dessert.

Keppler: I recently discovered Coquito nuts, also known as mini coconuts. They are about the size of a marble and taste similar to a coconut with a very slight hint of almond. Currently, I’m developing a layered cake dessert inspired by the bright summer flavors of coconut and lime incorporating coquito nuts and yuzu. I’m calling it “Islands in the Sun.”

What is your favorite summer-themed dessert dish to prepare?

Hanson: I am very happy with the strawberry shortcake we have at Grill 23. We use local strawberries tossed in a sweetened strawberry sauce. We make a poppy seed shortcake that we warm up to serve. My favorite part of our shortcake is the fior di latte gelato. I found a recipe I loved and we built the shortcake around it.

Keppler: While I’m at work my favorite summer time dish to prepare is a dessert I created called “Kyoto Palace.” It is a moist almond sponge cake with a sakura cherry blossom flavored bean paste and almond milk mouse served with a fresh cherry and sake sorbet garnished with a dark chocolate sauce and vacuum compressed cherries. When I developed this dish, I was inspired by the refreshing flavors and delicate pink color of the Japanese cherry blossom flower.

How are dessert menus different on the west coast and east coast?

Hanson: While working in kitchens during my twenties, I went back and forth between San Francisco and the Northeast several times. I saw desserts and flavors travel from one coast to the other. It used to take years. Now photos and descriptions of everyone's desserts are all over social media in real time. I think it creates a more homogeneous pastry culture. However, there are always regional favorites. I miss the exceptional citrus and stone fruit we had in San Francisco. I love our corn, apples, and strawberries here in Massachusetts.

Keppler: On the west coast menus tend to be more experimental with a lot of cultural fusion. I’ve also noticed more of a focus on health-conscious options. While, east coast menus are more traditional or neo-classical with a nod to nostalgia.